Markus James
“Timbuktoubab” cd and dvd,
and “Calabash Blues”  

During last year’s San Francisco World Film Festival, I was introduced to Markus James, who was there for the screening of his film “Timbuktoubab” which documents the musical journey of this white American bluesman to the distant land of Mali. When I saw him perform at the closing party of the film festival, I was totally blown away. I chased him across the parking lot, introduced myself, and received a copy of the cd and dvd of “Timbuktoubab”, which further convinced me that this artist was one which demanded my attention.

Much like the prior collaboration of Ry Cooder and legendary Malian musician Ali Farka Toure, Markus continues a musical exploration of the meeting of these cultures, with amazing results. Walking the line between world music and the blues, Markus’s music combines the slide guitar and English lyrics of American delta blues with traditional Malian instrumentation, creating a musical hybrid which is greater than the sum of its parts.

For more than a decade, this Virginia-raised California songwriter has been frequenting hidden musical corners of Mali, guitar and recording gear in tow, recording his original collaborations with traditional Wassoulou and Sonrai musicians to create a series of critically acclaimed albums, and the aforementioned documentary film which has been featured in film festivals and on many PBS stations around the country. His touring group here in the U.S. features Mamadou Sidibe on kamel n'goni (the Wassoulou hunters' harp) and vocals, and Issa Coulibaly on calabash (Sonrai percussion), and at Satalla will feature special guest appearance by Songhai multi-instrumentalist Abdallah Alhassane, of the group Mammar Kassey from Niamey, Niger.

Markus first encountered West African stringed music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival when he was mesmerized by the Gambian Kora player and singer, Alhaji Bai Konte. After playing in various rock and R&B groups, Markus moved to the SF Bay Area where he pursued his interests in African, Indian, and Gamelan music, while also writing and recording original music in various rock styles. He travelled in West Africa and also Haiti, studying traditional ensemble drumming, before first visiting Mali in 1994, when he made his way to the village of Niafounke to meet Ali Farka Toure. It was then that he first recorded with Wassoulou musician Solo Sidibe, and this became the "where you wanna be" album, released 6 years later. He has produced several programs for PRI's Afropop Worldwide, notably "Ali Farka Toure: Live From Niafounke

His collaborations in Timbuktu with Hamma Sankare (Calabash player on Ali Farka Toure's tours and albums), Hassi Sare (master of the one-stringed Njarka violin), and Solo Sidibe (who plays the Kamele N'Goni, the hunter's harp of the Wassoulou people) are the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary film and CD / DVD release "Timbuktoubab". This group has performed at the Festival In The Desert in 2003 and 2004, as well as in Timbuktu and other towns and villages in Northern Mali.